Considering how fast Weekly Shonen Jump axes old series and introduces new ones, perhaps it’s no surprise that, sometimes, a series can slip my radar. Looking at the 30+ chapter count for Yui Kamio Lets Loose, I wondered: where on earth did this come from, and how on earth is still around? The answer turned out to be because of exactly what draws me to serialized media in the first place: gradual change and evolution from an innocent love comedy into a full-blown battle manga.
Phase One: Love Comedy
Yui Kamio Lets Loose starts off innocuously enough. Our story follows the titular Yui Kamio, a beautiful honor student who has a terrible secret; inside of her sleeps a dark, aggressive alter ego that can only be brought under control by tying up her hair with a special, blessed chain; hence why the series’ Japanese title is Kamio Yui wa Kami wo Yui (Yui Kamio Ties Her Hair).
Yui’s best friend, Nao Ebisuno, is tasked with keeping Yui’s dark alter ego under control by tying up her hair every morning, but a chance encounter with high society pretty boy Kiito Sonomiya exposes him to Yui’s secret and sees him fall hopelessly head over heels for her.
What follows is a fairly harmless love comedy that invokes much of the same appeal as a classic Rumiko Takahashi story with all of its body-swapping shenanigans. Each chapter, some kind of new situation arises where Black Yui is let loose, and Kiito’s dedication to White Yui (her honor student personality) is tested as he coordinates with Nao to tie Yui’s hair up once more.
Aside from a comfy classic romantic comedy vibe, what keeps these initial chapters interesting is the character of Kiito. As stated, he was born into a wealthy high society family and has spent much of his high school life up until this point as one of the ‘Life Lovers,’ a group of elite students who ‘live life on easy mode’ thanks to their families’ wealth, status and power.
Yet, meeting Yui and falling in love with her sets Kiito down the path to redemption, away from a conceited rich kid and towards a more conscientious, caring student. He also drops the effortlessly talented elite student act, something which he worked hard to maintain at school despite secretly studying hard to become a vet in his spare time and working out to improve his body.
Elements of his previous life as an egotistical player crop up every now and again, though, as Kiito both becomes the subject of ridicule for the narrative and the source of a good portion of the series’ early narrative conflicts.
In this sense, Yui Kamio Lets Loose matches a comfy love comedy-type feel with the redemption and exploration of an otherwise unredeemable main character. It’s a little bit like Chainsaw Man, although definitely less adult.
Phase Two: Evolution
Even so, what Kiito’s evolution as a character in these initial chapters should signal is that this series is not your average static love comedy, where the status quo is reset every week. In fact, contained within these initial chapters are the kernels for a full-blown battle manga, which come to flower once author Hiroshi Shiibashi passes the dozen chapter mark.
What should also raise an eyebrow even before you look back and realize how much Kiito is changing as a character from his initial appearance is Yui Kamio Lets Loose’s odd penchant for violent conflicts during what are ostensibly just back-and-forth romantic shenanigans between Kiito and Yui.
So many of the comedic situations in these initial chapters are instigated from an outside force obsessed with tracking down Black Yui for one reason or another, literally invading the series’ high school setting, causing some kind of mishap with Yui’s chain and often ending up in fisticuffs between Black Yui.
The relatively flawed origins of both Yui and Kiito, one being a former violent delinquent and the other a manipulative playboy, should also cue you into the fact that this story is perhaps more serious than first meets the eye.
A big shift in the Yui Kamio Lets Loose’ power dynamic then comes in chapter 13, where Yui is confronted by the school council president and is forced to retreat to some kind of metaphysical mindscape to ask for the help of Black Yui. She then unties her hair of her own accord, signaling that she’s perhaps not as helpless and ignorant of the situation as she might first seem.
Straight after this development comes another shocking revelation in chapter 14: Black Yui’s physical prowess is actually supernatural in origin, owing to a ‘mushi’ that is inside Yui’s body that feeds on her violent impulses. Between this and the developing White/Black dynamic, it becomes clear that Shiibashi is laying the groundwork for a future supernatural power dynamic, taking the series far away from its more innocuous love comedy roots.
Phase Three: Battle!
If chapters 13 and 14 represented the transition away from simple love comedy and towards something more, then it is during chapter 15 that Shiibashi’s true intentions become clear: turning Yui Kamio Lets Loose into a battle manga, and a supernatural one at that.
Towards the end of chapter 15, someone begins to pull on Yui’s sealing chain from the darkness. Kiito manages to pull it back out from the darkness and prevent Black Yui from being unleashed, but it is as he pulls the chain back from the darkness that it begins to drip with blood, and a creepy Japanese doll is revealed to be the culprit. This is our introduction to the series’ first proper antagonist, the ‘Boss of the Japanese Dolls,’ Honoka Awadama.
This couldn’t be more of a departure from the innocent mood of the series just a couple of chapters prior and represents the beginning of Yui Kamio Lets Loose’s transformation into a full-blown battle manga.
Honoka Awadama vows to take Yui’s life and thus sends one of her dolls to enroll in Yui’s school, hoping to ensnare her and bring her to Wakayama prefecture by way of a magical portal. She succeeds, setting the stage for the series’ first battle between supernatural opponents.
Obviously, this would not be the first time that the series has employed a battle as a climax. I already discussed the series’ violent tendencies that made it a little unusual for a love comedy back during its initial dozen or so chapters, but this showdown between Yui, Kiito, and Honoka is a little different.
Firstly, there’s Honoko’s explicit intent to kill Yui Kamio, a little different from Yui’s previous opponents, who just wanted to beat her up a little bit to get revenge. To this end, it’s also during the battle with Honoka that we see blood and physical being afflicted for the first time in the series, mudding the waters even more.
It’s also during this battle that the series’ visual aesthetic shifts away from innocent, almost shoujo-esque heightened fairytale romance towards more horrific imagery, such as a legion of creepy Japanese dolls stalking Yui in a dark stairwell or a slimy, writhing bug (mushi) sliding towards her.
We also learn that Yui Kamio’s origins perhaps aren’t as innocuous as they first seemed. As it turns out, Yui isn’t possessed by Black Yui, as you might first presume. In actual fact, Black Yui was Yui’s original personality, with the White Yui personality only coming forth thanks to the magical sealing chain.
Before Black Yui was sealed away with the chain, she had a distinctly battle-focused calling: a so-called ‘Mushi Hunter,’ tracking down supernatural opponents such as Honoka, who use the power of insect-like demons known as ‘mushi’ to wreak havoc. These opponents are now coming back for their revenge with Yui’s more powerful side now sealed away. As I hope you can tell, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Things don’t slow down one bit once the fight with Honoka is settled, as Yui Kamio Lets Loose moves straight into yet another battle-focused arc, this time introducing us to the fearsome ‘Deathly Violin Boss’ Ayako Kitsujo, who uses music to turn people into zombies with the power of demonic mushi.
It’s also during this arc that we get a solid reason why the narrative can’t just let the powerful Black Yui loose on these opponents, as per the series’ title. As it turns out, Yui is also possessed by a mushi that feeds on her impulses, just like her opponents. Simply put, Yui treads a fine line between being in control of her power and her power taking control of her, meaning that Kiito has to step up to the plate, instead.
Relegating the overpowered Black Yui to the narrative back seat was a good move by Shiibashi, as it means that the battles that the series has now become focused on are less about brawn than they are about brains.
Kiito isn’t exactly weak, but he’s certainly not as strong as the fearsome mushi-possessed opponents that are trying to take out Yui. That means he has to try to outsmart them, leading to some really entertaining psychological conflicts, including one moment where a war is waged over an organ duet. Yes, really.
Yui Kamio Lets Loose: The Future
All of this should make clear that Yui Kamio Lets Loose has strayed far, far away from its love comedy roots. It’s now a full-blown supernatural battle manga, and I’m absolutely here for it.
What’s more, Shiibashi shows no sign of slowing down on this front. In fact, he’s just introduced the series’ first semblance of an overall narrative, an essential part of any long-running shonen battle manga.
Given that the mushi inside Yui is making her a ticking time bomb, Kiito and Yui’s other friends have been tasked with tracking down and defeating the ‘Queen Mushi,’ who gave birth to all mushis and whose defeat will supposedly deactivate all mushis that are currently active, including the one that is inside Yui.
Obviously, many opponents are going to get in our characters’ way on the road to achieving this goal, and they’re not all going to be allied with the Mushi Queen.
If you’ve been paying attention to the various opponents’ names so far, you’ll notice that they’re all some kind of ‘boss.’ This is because Yui Kamio Lets Loose is not just a supernatural battle manga, but also a supernatural female high school delinquent battle manga. This is because Black Yui was once the ‘boss’ of a delinquent gang herself, with the opponents that she once defeated now coming back to seek revenge.
But regardless of the reasoning, the series is now so far gone from its innocent love comedy premise towards an insane supernatural battle manga that reading it every week has become a sort of challenge to see how much further Shiibashi can push the boundaries. It’s certainly an experience.
That’s not to say, however, that the series has forgotten its more innocuous roots. In a hilarious twist of fate, Kiito has ended up forming a sort of harem around him out of the various enemies he’s defeated over the course of the series which provides some much needed light-heartedness to the now battle-focused story.
Even so, Yui Kamio Lets Loose is unlikely to let up anytime soon. As of the time of writing, the series is currently knee deep in a battle that takes place on a train between our protagonists and a scorned ex-admirer of Kiito from his time as a member of the elite, mirroring, hilariously, the Infinite Train arc from Kimetsu no Yaiba. Yes, really.
Obviously, I’m pretty pleased with this drastic transformation. Aside from how much more entertaining the manga has gotten because of this, part of this is also because of how much Shiibashi’s art has flourished thanks to this change in tone and content matter.
His art definitely already stood out from the crowd at the start of Yui Kamio Lets Loose due to how shoujo-esque his female character designs tended to be with their long, flowing hair and slim proportions, but it is during the shift to battle manga that Shiibashi begins to infuse these shojo sensibilities with a demonic metal aesthetic – giving birth to a style that can only be called ‘death metal shoujo.’
Part of me can’t help but wonder if this transformation was planned from the get-go. Indeed, one of my favorite manga of all time, Medaka Box, followed much the same path when it debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump back in 2009. Ease your readers in with a bit of love comedy with ecchi sensibilities, before pivoting to an entirely unique battle manga; a winning combination.
That being said, I’m not entirely sure that Yui Kamio Lets Loose will end up lasting as long as Medaka Box did. Its place in the Weekly Shonen Jump table of contents has been pretty low since its debut, and its volume sales haven’t been anything spectacular, either.
It’s possible that the only reason the series has been allowed to stick around for so long is the abysmal performance and reception of other new series launched around the same time, such as Samurai 8, Beast Children and Tokyo Shinobi Squad.
Still, I’m sure that Shiibashi wouldn’t have launched into a new, strung-out arc without being fairly certain that he’d have the time to bring it to a conclusion. His editors have no doubt been giving him the same advice. He’s more at home with battle manga than love comedy, anyway – his last series, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, was a fairly serious supernatural action series.
The future of Yui Kamio Lets Loose is uncertain. But regardless of whether this series is going to be another long-running hit for the magazine or not, its evolution has certainly been something to behold. Stuff like this is why I love Japanese manga above everything else: the chance to see how stories change and develop over time on a fairly regular basis. Letting loose Yui Kamio may have been a bizarre move, but it’s certainly been a wild ride.
You can read Yui Kamio Lets Loose (Yui Kamio wa Kami wo Yui) for free via VIZ Media’s Shonen Jump.